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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No.2 in E minor Op.67 [27.18]
Piano Quintet in G minor Op.57 [33.01]
Alexey Goribol (piano), Ilya Ioff (violin), Alexey Massarsky (cello)
Lidiya Kovalenk (violin), Andrey Dogadin (viola) (quintet)
rec. Russia, 2006
Notes in Russian and English
MELODIYA MELCD1002451 [60.25]

Shostakovich wrote no finer chamber music than these two undisputed masterpieces. The Piano Quintet was composed in 1940 in the wake of Shostakovich's prolonged work re-orchestrating Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. He described the Quintet developing 'almost simultaneous' in his mind with that effort. The work was instantly popular in the USSR and was taken up by Western ensembles equally quickly. This rapid acceptance was reflected at home in the award of a Stalin Prize in 1941. The interesting essay by Olga Digonskaya notes that the prize was earned, because the work was seen as 'devoid of anguish, tragic elements, covert underlying messages and concealed senses.' 'Perhaps', she adds, having seen the irony of officialdom hearing what they wanted to hear. What we get in this huge arch of music, a long, Bachian prelude and fugue, a central scherzo, and then two more, longer and more serious movements, is of huge emotional impact. Even the central scherzo, which could be loosely called Beethovenian, has the piano playing insistent passages of ‘wrong’ notes, not merely accompanying the strings, but fiercely hammering away, as if trying to drown their lines. The composer himself remarked in a letter that this quintet was 'by nature .. more serious and kind of deeper than (a) quartet'. That, coming from the man who went on to write such profound quartets, is quite some throwaway remark. There is more about all this in the CD notes.

The Piano Trio No.2 is, if anything, still more popular than the Quintet. It was dedicated to the memory of Ivan Sollertinsky, a close friend, whose death not only deprived the USSR of one of its most prominent intellects, but left the composer deeply shaken. “I cannot express in words all the grief I felt when I received the news of the death of Ivan Ivanovich,” he wrote to Sollertinsky’s widow Olga. “Ivan Ivanovich was my closest and dearest friend. I owe all my education to him. It will be unbelievably hard for me to live without him.” The trio is, if anything, even more hard-hitting than the Quintet. It was also more openly critical of the cultural environment, in which Shostakovich worked, containing, as it does, his first use of Klezmer. When he wrote his 8th Quartet in 1960, it was the finale of this trio which was quoted extensively as representative of his wartime work.

The liner notes on the musicians do not mention why these five collaborated to make this recording. I have no idea if they are regular members of an ensemble, but they play with such unity and sense of commitment that it seems likely they are not an arbitrary grouping, brought together for these two works only. These two masterworks can be dashed off as virtuoso display and the contours easily smoothed out. This is emphatically not the case here. These five musicians play with a passion and commitment that can only come from a deep belief in what they are playing. Apart from Shostakovich's own performances of both works, which are of course peerless, there are other powerful performances in the catalogue, but this new Melodiya issue can hold its head high in their company. The recording is top class, having depth and spread despite only being stereo.

Dave Billinge



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